"I put on a dress," Dutch artist Chris Rijksen explains of his photo series "Gender as a Performance, "an exhibition of which opens Wednesday at New York City's Sous Les Etoiles Gallery. "Am I a woman? Am I a man in a dress? Am I a dress?"
The series showcases the 23-year-old artist's self-portraits, taken using an antiquated wire shutter-release held in his hand, visible to the viewer. Against the bare palette of Rijksen's androgynous body and blank expression, only his simple outfits change -- some more "feminine" and others more "masculine."
Rijksen has a playful yet serious way of approaching the ways gender is constructed. To learn more, The Advocate interviewed him via email.
The Advocate: What drew you to create the photo series?
Chris Rijksen: It was a mix of things: I was frustrated by gender policing of some of my surroundings, I wanted to confuse people in a sort of constructive way about the diversity of identity expression, and I was, most obviously, inspired by scholar Judith Butler's Gender Trouble. By envisioning, as Butler did, gender as a performance, it made so much more sense to me, and I could make connections to theater and the manners that are expected from a person (based on being female or male or masculine).
What advantages does photography have in exploring gender variance?
The photograph is a medium that can trigger critique, but the comments will not affect the photograph immediately. You can deny the existence of the gender variance in the photograph, but the photo will present itself again at you as the truth -- or the possible truth.
How did you come to the decision to use self-portraits?
I needed a model who would understand the concept and still would be able to deliver a credible personality. Partly out of efficiency, I decided to do it myself. Also, the visibility of me holding the shutter is a very important part of the story: It tells that I am the one deciding on when you can look at me, that it is a conscious decision each time.
What has been the response to "Gender as a Performance"?
The responses are diverse: Some people reacted with "Well, that boy has to decide for himself if he wears heels, of course!" Some children run around in the exhibition, pointing at the different pictures saying, "Girl, boy, boy, girl, boy, girl, boy, girl, girl!"
Some people ask me which one of the pictures I identify most with. This is a funny question, since the goal of my photo series was to go beyond this unambiguous "real" identity and to propose a multitude of possible identities. I do not believe in one form of identity. The spectator most likely projects its own framework of identity on the person in front of them, whether it is a photograph or a real person.
With my photos I ask viewers to reconsider the fixed identity.